A political doctrine, originating in the French Revolution, according to which human society can be organized on the basis of the common ownership of economic resources by the direct producers or workers. The theory of communism was developed systematically by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 1840s, who asserted that human society underwent development through a series of historical stages or modes of production , and that out of the development of capitalism and the organized activity of the working class would emerge a communist society or workers' state as the culmination of history. Marx gave only the most general indication as to what constituted a communist society, and later writers modified his vision by allotting a central place to the state in the organizing of such societies, and by arguing for a prolonged transition period of socialism prior to the attainment of full communism. For that reason, the USSR, People's Republic of China, and more recently established communist regimes such as those in Cuba and Vietnam are often described as ‘state socialist’. This usage indicates that they are judged to have realized part of the socialist programme by abolishing private property and establishing state control over the economy; however, they are not considered truly socialist (or communist), because they have not established political democracy. (Rather unhelpfully, however, they are sometimes also referred to as state capitalism . What both terms point to is the recognition that these societies fall far short of Marx's utopian communist ideal-and usually involve a heavily centralized and undemocratic political apparatus in which the state bureaucratic élite acts as a surrogate capitalist class. Thus, and to add further to the terminological confusion, they are sometimes also known as ‘bureaucratic socialist’ or ‘state monopoly capitalist’ societies.) One of the best histories of the communist movement and communist societies is’s The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform (1975).
Theories within Marxism as to why communism was not achieved after socialist revolutions pointed to such elements as the pressure of external capitalist states, the relative backwardness of the societies in which the revolutions occurred, and the emergence of a bureaucratic stratum or class that arrested and diverted the transition process in its own interests. Non-Marxists have applied the term communism to any society ruled by a communist party and to any parties aspiring to create such a society. Communist societies were seen by most sociologists as being distinct from capitalist states in important political and ideological respects, involving as they did the concentration of decision-making in a small and secretive leadership; state domination of the economy; the limitation of all independent political and social activity; and a higher reliance on coercion than was present in liberal democracies. However, the extent to which the economic bases of the two types of system were in practice distinct was always a hotly debated issue, with some writers arguing that the technological imperatives of advanced industrialism yielded great similarities at the level of the productive unit and its organization.
While critics applied the concept totalitarian to these societies, more sympathetic analysts identified possibilities for independent political activity within them, and stressed their continued evolution up to the point of the dissolution of the USSR and its satellites in Eastern Europe during the late 1980s. See also real socialism.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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